“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
It’s the most boring answer to a simple question. I get it, there are a lot of pizzerias out there and you need to maintain a competitive edge to avoid getting swallowed up by the bigger fish. But have you seen what those sharks are up to? Here’s a clue: it’s the exact opposite of the old secret-ingredient game. Rather than locking customers out of the kitchen, they’re pulling back the curtain to allow for a closer look — and it’s not putting them out of business. Here are some ways pizzerias are excluding competition by including their customers.
- Ingredients. The first time I noticed a sourcing list on the back of a menu was 2004 at Franny’s in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. Every ingredient was from a different supplier within a couple hundred miles of the restaurant. I wasn’t interested in tracking down every piece of meat and cheese myself, but it was comforting to know that there was a thought process behind their selection. They were somehow able to tell me without having to kill me!
- Action. Other pizzerias are providing a more direct view into the kitchen. Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles and Tarry Lodge in Westport, Connecticut, both offer bar seating around the oven for the best view in the house. Guests can watch the action and even interact with the pizzaioli for a more detailed play-by-play. It’s like dinner and a show! New York’s Don Antonio by Starita opts for a more hi-tech solution by way of a monitor in their dining room that displays live action captured by a camera above their pizza station. Even Domino’s is testing new stores that feature exhibition kitchens so customers can watch as their pies are constructed.
- Creative media. Don’t feel like dealing with a camera setup or redesigning your store? An amazing video from Solorzano Bros Pizza in Sarasota, Florida, recently made the rounds online –– it’s a POV shot of the entire pizza-making process. The shot begins with a view from the pizza maker’s head for the stretch and topping processes, then moved to the peel’s handle for the dismount into the oven and ends with a close-up of the slicing process. No secrets are revealed but the viewer is pulled into the process in a way that makes them feel like they’re on the inside.
- Hands-On. If you’re interested in a more direct approach, try hosting a pizza-making class. There’s no better way to educate your customers than by pulling them into the kitchen. Hosting workshops at slow times will fill up your show while attracting valuable cheerleaders for your dishes. It’s an especially great way to educate the public if you’re introducing something new to your local market, not to mention it’s a lot of fun!
So next time a customer like me asks about your process, think about ways to educate rather than shut us down. And for those of you who’d rather take the easy way out by avoiding my question, I’ll just assume I’m talking to a person who doesn’t have any answers.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.